The following article features CollegeAdvisor.com’s Ray Li. For more information about our programming and personal guidance about the college application process, head to CollegeAdvisor.com and sign up for a monthly plan to work with an admissions coach 1-on-1.
CollegeAdvisor.com Admissions Expert Ray Li went on his first college tour in 3rd grade. Below the clear skies and palm trees of California, he posed for a photo at the renowned Stanford University, where — little did he know — he would one day attend law school.
As the student body president of his high school and a graduate of Duke University and Stanford Law School, Ray might seem like he's always had the answers. But that's not the case.
Growing up in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, Ray always had big aspirations of getting into college. However, he lacked access to the resources and advice available to other students. For one thing, his parents had both immigrated from China after graduating college. This meant that no one in his family had ever applied to (or attended) an American university. Additionally, Ray attended a large public high school that seldom sent students to top universities.
So, Ray did as many students in his situation have done: he turned to College Confidential.
While this resource was definitely helpful, it didn't cover everything that Ray needed to know. During application season, when Ray was invited to his first college interview, he didn't know how important the interview was for his application — plus, it was over an hour's drive away — so he turned the interview down!
Looking back, the CollegeAdvisor.com admissions expert says, "Before college, I didn't have a great strategy for telling the right stories. I ended up focusing on the wrong things."
Now, with nearly ten years of experience helping students through the college application process, Ray knows just how to help applicants find their voices. In addition to working for several years in the Duke University Admissions Office, he has also helped undergraduates applying to Stanford Law School. Both as a volunteer and as a hired professional, he has guided countless students on their essays and interviews.
Today, Ray’s favorite part of being a mentor at CollegeAdvisor.com is seeing his clients transform throughout the application process. "I really like being able to see people's reactions to their own work — asking the right questions to guide them through the process of self-discovery, then seeing them examine their final essay and feeling proud of it."
Navigating the college admissions process can be challenging, especially when you’re doing it alone. Ray highly recommends finding someone to help you with your college applications, whether that be a friend, school counselor, or CollegeAdvisor mentor.
Ray himself found this support in his high school guidance counselor. Although she didn't have much experience with Ivy League applications, she provided him with invaluable emotional support throughout the application process. Additionally, as student body president, Ray had developed a close relationship with his high school principal, a Duke University alumnus. As one of the only adults in Ray's community that had attended an elite college, Ray's principal provided him with the advice he needed to eventually make it into the prestigious university in Durham, North Carolina.
Reflecting on the admissions process, Ray confides, "Applying to college is a labyrinth of a process. It's hard to understand sometimes — even if you're the smartest kid in the world. Having someone that's gone through the process can really help you tell your best story."
This article was based on an interview with CollegeAdvisor.com’s Ray Li (Duke ‘15). If you want to get 1-on-1 help with your college applications from a CollegeAdvisor.com Admissions Expert, register with CollegeAdvisor.com today.